Several Clippers reportedly had trouble playing stints longer than three minutes in Game 7 and asked to be pulled for a breather during the fourth quarter, Paul George and Montrezl Harrell supposed had 'heated' Exchange. Hey, maybe Kawhi Leonard should have stayed in Toronto. So now what's standing between LBJ and another title is the Nuggets and either Heat or Celts. Not much?
That's right, here we go again with the GOAT debate. You know, did Michael ever win a title by winning every game on the road? Ok, that's for next month.
But there's two little-discussed factors that seem to be figuring mightily in the playoffs and perhaps explaining these upsets: No home court advantage and no fans. To me it drastically levels the playing field and emboldens younger and less experienced players. So Jamal Murray can substantially surpass his career levels—perhaps it's his breakthrough, though we will see—and those young guys with Miami can take (and make) those seemingly questionable three pointers. So it's perhaps less surprising than the verdict of history that the top two East seeds are out already. And the favorite among many, the Clippers. Home court advantage, supposedly the playoff goal over a long season, was wiped out, which certainly impacted the Bucks and perhaps the Raptors with their manic local support. Home court has the highest winning percentage in basketball because it's the biggest energy sport, and energy often is cerated by those home patrons. Plus many more players than you think get more nervous not only in the playoffs but in front of vocal fans. Perhaps Herro or Duncan Robinson hesitates on one of those one-on-four pullup threes on a less friendly court with fans feet away reminding them how stupid that shot was. Now you watch the games and have no idea who should have had home court, the NBA's unsuccessful attempt at mimicking home response unavailing.
So despite the recommendations from the media, I wouldn't give up quite yet if I were the Clippers. They clearly weren't as prepared as Denver with the long campus and injury absences of Harrell, Beverley and Williams. And Leonard and George weren't mature enough, as James will be, to be prepared. Many are blaming coach Doc Rivers, but the ethic with stars these days given their mobility is as Chuck Daly used to say, you hope they'll let you coach them. Some of the problem obviously was the way George and Leonard decided to ease through the regular season and obviously didn't care to practice much to save their bodies. We'll see how much Durant and Irving allow Steve Nash to be more than a former famous player. So neither star was as ready and determined as they needed to be and thus no coincidence they blew every second half lead. And that they wouldn't practice never apparently enabled the reserves, who were last year's stars, to figure out how to play with them.
Though I will fault Doc for one thing. He seemed to have borrowed Jim Boylen's defensive plan of trapping the pick and roll. Not a great idea when you have a player like Nikola Jokic so deft at playmaking. He cut up the Clippers. We favored them—yes, me too—because of their individual defenders. Are you telling me Leonard couldn't take Murray one on one and cancelled out that play, which the Clippers couldn't defend? So, yes, the runway looks clear now for LeBron. You know as serious as he is and how he stays in such great shape he's not going to relax with a championship he can now see so clearly.